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Seles_Beckham
Jan 15th, 2003, 03:56 PM
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.N. arms inspectors visited Saddam Hussein's main presidential palace in Baghdad on Wednesday as the hunt for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction entered its eighth week.

The palace inspection came a day after U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met in New York with U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to try to persuade him to interview Iraqi scientists outside the country.

That exchange came after President Bush made clear that he was losing patience with Saddam. Bush told reporters the burden of proof is on Iraq -- not the inspectors -- to produce any weapons of mass destruction it might have.

"The world came together, and we have given him one last chance to disarm," Bush said. "So far I haven't seen any evidence that he is disarming. Time is running out on Saddam Hussein -- he must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception."

The U.N. inspectors headed to Baghdad's al-Karadah district Wednesday to visit the presidential residence popularly known as the Old Palace. (Palace locations map)

CNN's Rym Brahimi said the Old Palace is larger than the al-Sajoud palace that inspectors visited in December and is regularly used by presidential staff. (Full story)

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that inspectors would need "a few months" to complete their work.

"We are inching forward with the inspections, but we need more time, at least a few months," said Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, speaking after a meeting in Moscow with Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, had said Monday the inspection process could take up to a year. (Full story)

ElBaradei said inspectors "have started to receive the specific actionable material" and will begin to work on that material. When asked if that meant he had specific proof of weapons of mass destruction, he said, "No," but he added the material deals with sites the inspectors should be visiting.

Rice, Blix discuss Iraqi issues
On Tuesday, Rice and Blix met at the U.S. mission to the United Nations for more than an hour. One diplomat said much of the discussion centered on getting Blix to keep his focus on the inspection timetable set out in U.N. Resolution 1441, which calls on Iraq to disarm or face possible military action.

That timetable includes a weapons inspector report to the U.N. Security Council on January 27.

Blix acknowledged that January 27 is an "important day," but he made clear that it was not a deadline for the inspection process to be completed.

Blix and ElBaradei will visit Baghdad on Sunday, and they will ask Iraqi officials "to shift gears from passive cooperation to active cooperation," ElBaradei said.

The United States has said it has information that proves Iraq possesses prohibited weapons. But U.N. inspectors said they have found no "smoking gun" as they scour Iraq.

Despite the ongoing U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf region, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he remains convinced Iraq can be disarmed without a military conflict.

"Leaders in the region remain engaged in the process of convincing President Saddam and the Iraqi leadership to disarm and cooperate with inspectors," Annan said Tuesday.

Pentagon sources have estimated that the United States could have 200,000 to 250,000 regular, National Guard and reserve troops in the region by mid-February.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that there is "not a specific timetable" for how long U.S. troops massing in the Persian Gulf region will stay there awaiting orders to act.